- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

The injury was only the start.

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Joe Salave’a partially tore the plantar fascia in his left foot a year ago today in a game against Kansas City. He finished the game and started the next six, too, before finally giving in to the pain for two weeks. Still not at 100 percent, Salave’a returned for the critical run to Washington’s first playoff berth in six years even though he wasn’t 100 percent.

What followed has been a miserable year for the 31-year-old. He missed the start of training camp to fly back to his native American Samoa to bury his mother, Rebecca, who died in July after a 12-year battle with breast cancer.

Then in Week 2 at Dallas, Salave’a strained his right calf, an injury severe enough to keep him out two games. He returned to start last week against another NFC East foe, the New York Giants, only to suffer a similar injury to his left calf. Again, Salave’a kept playing, but he has been unable to practice this week and likely will not play tomorrow.

“I’ve been trying to hold on the best I can, physically and mentally,” said Salave’a, who had started 14 of 21 games before the plantar fascia injury. “I’ve vented at times to [defensive line coach Greg] Blache and some of my teammates. I really haven’t had a chance to fully sit back and take a deep breath. But if you do that in this profession, you’ll be on the street. It’s tough, but you keep your faith, pray about things and you work with your family.”

Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams raves about Salave’a’s toughness and his work as a mentor for rookie defensive tackles Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery, who are destined to ease him out of the picture.

“Joe was kind of a silent leader, but now he’s more vocal,” said Williams, his coordinator during four seasons with tomorrow’s opponent, the Tennessee Titans, who cut him in 2002 when he was not recovered from surgery on his left ankle and right shoulder. “He’s kind of taken these young guys under his wing, being someone they can come to in confidence.”

Salave’a confided in Blache and some of his linemates as his mother was dying.

“I tried to avoid what was coming by denying it,” said Salave’a, who has been the financial bulwark for his extended family. “I would come through the double doors here, and I would be fine, but I would leave here, and I would be a mess.”

Salave’a’s 6-foot-3, 317-pound wide body was a mess when he was cut by Tennessee, the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 1998 and he helped reach the Super Bowl in 1999.

“I had two major surgeries coming into [2002], but I kept practicing,” Salave’a said. “That could be a dumb move in some people’s perspective, but I won’t change who I am. I was just trying to get ready for the season. Getting cut was a shock. They felt that I wasn’t the same guy. And I wasn’t. But I didn’t get a chance to heal properly.”

Salave’a latched on with San Diego midway through 2003 but wasn’t retained after a 4-12 season. Fortunately for him, Williams had just taken the job in Washington. Salave’a split time in 2004 before taking command at right tackle in 2005. His willingness to play through pain drew accolades from teammates, coaches and trainers last season. But banged-up again this year, Salave’a has just five tackles, two fewer than Golston and three more than Montgomery.

“I didn’t do my part to help us out,” Salave’a lamented after the Redskins gave up 411 yards, 155 on the ground, in Sunday’s 19-3 loss at Giants Stadium. “A couple of those runs on the right side, if I do my part, there’s hardly a run at all. Maybe the younger guys are doing a lot better jobs than I am right now. It’s frustrating, especially in our division. You lose one, you take two steps backwards.”

Of course, Salave’a didn’t let on he had injured the other calf on the first snap of the third quarter. He’s going to meet with team nutritionist Ann Litt to see whether a change in diet can help his battered body. With just two games left before the bye week, it might make sense for Salave’a to shut it down for three weeks and try to be ready for the final nine games. But that’s not his nature.

“I want to play,” Salave’a said. “I can rest up during bye week. Knowing that it’s Tennessee this week is another reason to get back out there.”

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